Exam trouble

This week has been the final week of classes for me and the students have done their final listening exam (they’d already done their speaking exam). I had a meeting last Wednesday, whereby I collected the answer sheets. The exam was all multiple choice. The students had to select the correct answer (a, b, c or d) and put a line through it on the sheet. After the exam, I had to take the sheets to an office where they are marked (by machine!).

I was sent the questions and recordings in advance of the meeting. Good thing too because I found a lot of mistakes in the questions. My two Tuesday morning classes had one exam; the afternoon class had another. Friday morning classes had another exam and the afternoon had yet another one. So, in total there four exams I had to give my classes.

Reading the questions before the meeting, however, it became clear that there were many errors, not just in grammar (though there were many of these), but in the general phrasing of questions, some of which did not even make sense or were, at best, ambiguous. We (as in, the foreign teachers) were not consulted about the exam questions. I am not sure why; perhaps the Chinese English teachers wanted to ‘save face’ and not reveal their errors (but if so that backfired, since I was left with a low opinion of some of them). For most of the meeting, I spent the time explaining the errors. The liaison Chinese teacher told me she was grateful and that I should send the amendments to her (I don’t know if she then sent my corrections to the Chinese teachers). The Chinese English teachers here seemed to have a mixed level of English – some are good, some okay and some terrible. The questions were, I suspect, Chinglish, and some other students who I know said the exam was difficult or weird, whilst others (who did not do the exam), agreed it was disappointing that the exam was so bad!

An example: a question about a phone conversation to a restaurant, booking a table for a meal, asked ‘On what day does the customer book at last?’ The options were Monday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The answer was Saturday. Fine, but the next question, the very next one, was, ‘Finally, they agree on ________’ (what day). The options? Saturday, Friday, not given or Friday night. The answer was (again) Saturday. It was the same question as the previous one.

A passage about smart cities mentioned the planned city of Masdar in the United Arab Emirates. The question, ‘What is the primary concern in making design for Masdar?’, does not really make sense. The possible answers were equally confusing. One option read: ‘To enable the city to be maintained long’.

Another question asked about the US city of Santa Fe. It asked who first built the city, and gave the options of the Spanish, the Americans, the Italians or the Mexican (the one and only, presumably).

Now I realise that typos happen, and the odd mistake is understandable. The trouble is, it wasn’t just one or two though, it was several, in all the exam papers. And even if the questions were grammatically correct, they were often ambiguous or confusing.

The students all felt like it was difficult, but they all persevered. I think I get sent a listening grade and then I hope to upload the final grade to the university system, which means if they have all done terribly, then I may be able to give them a better grade in their speaking (they will all have got an A anyway). Still, my first exams here are over, and I’m left feeling irritated and depressed at the level of English in the questions.

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